Office space was scarce when Sally Harding worked as a newly hired Provo Planning Commission secretary in the 1950s.

"There was no office for the Planning Commission or Community Development Department until we moved into this building in 1972," Harding said from her office in the City Center. "So, all the files were kept under my bed."For years, my shorthand notes were the only minutes we had for Planning Commission meetings," Harding said. The city now has filing cabinets, cassette tapes and computers to keep track of what Harding wrote in 120 notebooks.

That's only one of the legacies Harding will leave with Provo City when she retires Friday. During her 40 years with the city, Harding worked as a secretary to the city engineer, Planning Commission, Board of Adjustment and the first City Council and as a housing rehabilitation specialist.

Harding, 61, spent the past 81/2 years as the city's ombudsman. Her service has gone beyond the dictionary definition of ombudsman, which is a person who investigates citizens' complaints against government and seeks a solution. She's a clearing house for problems and inquiries. If she doesn't have an immediate resolution or answer, she'll find one.

"I try to be a good resource," Harding said.

Most people complain about out-of-control weeds or fractured streets or neighbors' junky yards.

"A lot of times I get calls out of frustration," she said. Regardless of the complaint, Harding is willing to listen. And over the years, she has heard it all.

"I've had some fun ones. I've had some weird ones," Harding said.

Like the time a woman brought her a dead rat in a paper bag. Harding said the woman found the scraggly creature in her back yard and wanted to know what it was.

Then there was the man who called her a communist because she couldn't do anything about a mobile-home owner who decided to fly the American flag upside down.

"Every day has had its challenges and rewards. It would be impossible to say one was more rewarding than the others," said Harding, a fourth-generation Provoan. Government can't solve every person's problem, but Harding tried. She helped people when she didn't really have to.

A migrant farmworker wrecked his car leaving the county and didn't have any way back to Texas. Harding helped arrange meals, board and transportation to get the man going again. A year later, Harding received a card from the man saying he no longer picked fruit and had earned a degree from a junior college.

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Retirement won't keep Harding from coming to people's physical and emotional rescue.

She and her husband, Paul, plan to serve a mission for the LDS Church. Harding also intends to take care of relatives.

"I'm going to return favors to my mother and Paul's parents, help take care of them," she said.

Maybe the tables should turn. Seems as if the entire city of Provo owes Harding a favor.

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